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Red Hat should double down on containers

Matt Asay | Aug. 24, 2015
As Red Hat homes in on VMware, investing development resources in container-related efforts will pay off far more than propping up OpenStack.

Red Hat should double down on containers
Credit: Martyn Williams

OpenStack is many things, but a runaway success it is not. Despite a community that measures in the thousands, Gartner still counts OpenStack deployments in the hundreds -- on a good day.

This could change. OpenStack might, as Randy Bias urged the OpenStack faithful in his annual State of the Stack address, start streamlining development because "OpenStack is at risk of collapsing under its own weight."

But if you're a hyperfocused company like Red Hat, sinking even more resources in OpenStack development might not be the smart bet.

For years Red Hat has been trying to move beyond its founding mantra -- kill Sun and pricey, proprietary Unix -- to a new, but similar, mantra: Kill VMware and pricey, proprietary virtualization. Red Hat's embrace of OpenStack, an open source framework for managing virtualized data centers at scale (most often using Red Hat's KVM hypervisor), was a crucial part of this quest.

But OpenStack's future looks hazy at this point. So over the past year, Red Hat has jumped on the container bandwagon, embracing Docker, contributing code to Kubernetes for container management, and creating its own stripped-down Linux (Project Atomic) to compete with Docker-friendly CoreOS. Going forward, this is a better line of attack on VMware, which, despite recent efforts, will likely have a tough time transitioning to the brave new world of containers.

The OpenStack diversion

OpenStack has been a distraction for Red Hat, one that it seems to be finally shaking. Though the open source leader once dominated OpenStack development, this hasn't been true since the Icehouse release, when Red Hat accounted for 18 percent of all code commits (Mirantis was second at 13 percent, and HP tied for third with 12 percent). Since then, Red Hat's contributions have fallen off:

  • Juno: HP (18 percent), Red Hat (17 percent)

  • Kilo: HP (18 percent), Red Hat (16 percent)

  • Liberty: HP (19 percent), Red Hat (15 percent)

I'm sure Red Hat will dispute this characterization, and indeed, code contributions are an imperfect measure of commitment to a project. Red Hat's volume of contributions could be rising even as its percentage of total contributions falls.

Plus, as Kelsey Hightower rightly points out, there is far more to "contribution" than code. Documentation and other things don't show up in the stats above, but they matter a great deal.

Beyond code contributions, there are the public statements from Red Hat indicating it's all in on OpenStack. For example, while acknowledging that OpenStack users are early in their deployments of the cloud technology, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told investors, "We intend to be the vendor of choice for production deployments of OpenStack."


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